[Burning Issue] Comprehensive Bodo Settlement Agreement

 

  • The MHA, the Assam government and the Bodo groups have signed an agreement to redraw and rename the Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD) in Assam, currently spread over four districts of Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa and Udalguri.
  • Several Bodo groups led have been demanding a separate land for the ethnic community since 1972, a movement that has claimed nearly 4,000 lives.

Who are the Bodos?

  • Bodos are the single largest tribal community in Assam, making up over 5-6 per cent of the state’s population. They have controlled large parts of Assam in the past.
  • The four districts in Assam — Kokrajhar, Baksa, Udalguri and Chirang — that constitute the Bodo Territorial Area District (BTAD), are home to several ethnic groups.

What was the dispute?

  • The Bodos have had a long history of separatist demands, marked by armed struggle.
  • In 1966-67, the demand for a separate state called Bodoland was raised under the banner of the Plains Tribals Council of Assam (PTCA), a political outfit.
  • In 1987, the All Bodo Students Union (ABSU) renewed the demand. “Divide Assam fifty-fifty”, was a call given by the ABSU’s then leader, Upendra Nath Brahma.
  • The unrest was a fallout of the Assam Movement (1979-85), whose culmination — the Assam Accord — addressed the demands of protection and safeguards for the “Assamese people”, leading the Bodos to launch a movement to protect their own identity.
  • In December 2014, separatists killed more than 30 people in Kokrajhar and Sonitpur. In the 2012 Bodo-Muslim riots, hundreds were killed and almost 5 lakh were displaced.

Reasons behind separatist tendencies

  • For centuries, Bodos survived Sanskritisation without giving up their original ethnic identity.
  • However, in the 20th century, they had to tackle a series of issues such as illegal immigration, the encroachment of their lands, forced assimilation, loss of language and culture.
  • The 20th century also witnessed the emergence of Bodos as a leading tribe in Assam which pioneered the movements for safeguarding the rights of the tribal communities in the area.
  • From then on, they have been consistently deprived of the political and socio-economic rights by successive state and central governments.
  • The Bodos have not only become an ethnic minority in their own ancestral land but have also been struggling for their existence and status as an ethnic community.

Background of the accord

  • The first Bodo accord was signed with the ABSU in 1993, leading to the creation of a Bodoland Autonomous Council with limited political powers.
  • The recent Bodo Accord was signed in 2003 which resulted in the establishment of an autonomous administrative unit- Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) under Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India.
  • The BTC has been divided into four districts viz. Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baska, and Udalguri.
  • The BTAD and other areas mentioned under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution have been exempted from the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019.

Highlights of the 2020 Agreement

The Bodoland Territorial Council, All Bodo Students Union (ABSU), various factions of National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) — Gobindo Basumatary faction, Dhirendra Bodo faction, RanjanDaymari faction and Saoraigwra faction and the United Bodo Peoples Organization (UBPO) are party to the agreement with the Centre and the Assam government.

  • As per the agreement, villages dominated by Bodos that were present outside the BTAD would be included and those with non-Bodo population would be excluded.
  • Bodos living in the hills would be conferred a Scheduled Hill Tribe status.
  • The BTAD is to be renamed as the Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR).

I. Rehabilitation and relief

  • The criminal cases registered against members of the NDFB factions for “non-heinous” crimes shall be withdrawn by the Assam government and in cases of heinous crimes it will be reviewed.
  • A Special Development Package of Rs. 1500 Crore would be given by the Centre to undertake specific projects for the development of Bodo areas.

II. A separate Commission

  • It proposes to set up a commission under Section 14 of the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution which will recommend the inclusion or exclusion of tribal population residing in villages adjoining BTAD areas.
  • In this commission, besides State government, there will be representatives from ABSU and BTC. It will submit its recommendation within six months.

III. Changes in Legislature

  • The total number of Assembly seats will go up to 60, from the existing 40.
  • The present settlement has a proposal to give more legislative, executive, administrative and financial powers to BTC.

IV. Bodo as an official language

  • The Assam government will also notify Bodo language as an associate official language in the state and will set up a separate directorate for Bodo medium schools.
  • Bodo with Devnagri script would be the associate official language for the entire Assam.

Significance of the agreement

 

I. Satisfying identity aspiration

  • The signing of the agreement would end the 50-year-old crisis and violent struggle.
  • The renaming is designed to satisfy the identity and aspirations of the Bodo people.

II. Not ceding territory solved tricky matter

  • Renaming also solved the politically tricky matter of ceding territory for the government of Assam.
  • Ceding territory would also have fuelled similar demands from the other parts of the state like- Karbi Anglong, Dima Hasao and Cachar, which also have homelands of non-Ahom ethnicities.

III. Avoiding similar demand from other states

  • Indeed, it could have affected the ongoing Naga peace process, leading Naga rebels to demand territorial and administrative autonomy in Naga homelands in Manipur.

IV. End of militancy

  • Around 1500 cadres of BODO militant factions will be rehabilitated by Centre and Assam Government.

Way Forward

  • The Government of Assam needs to ensure that the pact signed changes the situation on the ground and leads to a development on the ground.
  • The state also needs to allay the fears in the Bengali-speaking minority.
  • Moreover, true autonomy, true peace, and true development are always worth more than the paper on which they are promised.

Conclusion

  • The accord aims to bring together the leading stakeholders under one framework i.e. those who were previously associated with armed resistance groups.
  • The accord will end violence pertaining to Bodoland and help those associated with armed struggle enter the mainstream.
  • The Accord will further protect and popularize the unique culture of the Bodo people. They will get access to a wide range of development-oriented initiatives.

 



References

https://www.civilsdaily.com/news/comprehensive-bodo-settlement-agreement/

https://www.civilsdaily.com/news/explained-the-bodoland-dispute/

https://www.civilsdaily.com/news/op-ed-snap-optimal-delivery-or-mere-optics-in-bodo-peace-deal/

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